Chapter 2: A Torrent
It rained fiercely overnight for a few hours over the watershed of the Smith River. First, the waterway swelled directly from the rain that fell into it, but, mostly it grew into a raging torrent from the run-off that ran down from the mountains and hills nearby and upstream.
Orson stood on the bank, and he eyed the water. It was now Sunday morning, and luckily the sun was back in force. He ran a hand through his black hair, and he blew out a breath. The single silver streak in his hair glittered like treasure among his otherwise dark locks.
"Damn. The Smith is angry today." The sound of the water increased with the volume. And now it was violent and assaulted the ears with a wall of noise. He watched as a branch floated downstream, carried swiftly by the strong current. Fortunately, the water had stopped rising. There was still about five feet left of the sand and rocks that made up the tiny little riverside beach. And by the end of the day more of the beach would be exposed once the waters started to recede.
Last night, Greg, the owner of the campground took mercy on the few tent campers. Once the rain began to fall in earnest, all three of them were upgraded to the cabins on the grounds. Luckily, the campground had just enough available to accommodate them all. Greg was happy to do it. To ensure there were no hard feelings, Greg offered to refund any of the current cabin renters, and charge them tent-camping rates. That way it would all be equitable. Nobody took him up on it.
And before he headed to check out the river, Orson noticed a few more bills crammed into the jar the guys used for donations over at the camp kitchen. He smiled to himself as he thought about it. 'People are good.' He exhaled, satisfied. Then he set his jaw, and he looked back at the river. 'Though, sometimes they can lack judgment. We should post warning signs on the river trail. The water is dangerous right now.' That made him think of Elias, the very talented, but single-minded young man in his care. If he needed a stone or a pebble for one of his ceramic projects he would come to the river to find one. 'I need to make sure Elias knows he can't come down here until the river calms.'
Orson turned and started up the trail. He frowned and he looked down as he felt his right leg catch on something. He laughed, and he bent at the waist. Orson worked to untangle a blackberry vine that had snagged on the articulated foot joint of his mechanical leg. "That's all I need - trip and take a dive into the river. I could imagine that headline." Orson freed himself, and he started back up the path. He waved his hand. "'Man with one leg tries swimming after Smith River reaches near-flood stage! Darwin happy to report his death.'"
Orson chuckled at himself. Then he went to find Greg or Clay. 'Time to make a sign.'
Bailey had his camp chair under his arm, and he looked at the makeshift sign at the head of the trail that led down to the river. 'Dangerous Water! Use Extreme Care!'
He hesitated. Then he shrugged. 'Well, it can't hurt to go look.' Bailey could hear the roar of the waterway as soon as he stepped out of his cabin. And now, it was a tremendous amount of noise. He could almost feel the vibration of the sound in his chest.
Bailey carefully walked down the trail, and he stepped out onto the little slice of land that remained. He immediately noticed the boy he saw yesterday was back on his perch. The big stone under him was still solid, though water now covered half of its base. This time the kid didn't hear him at all, the river was so loud.
Bailey set his chair back up in the same spot as yesterday, and he took his seat. The dark-haired boy must have caught movement out of the corner of his eye. He looked over his shoulder, noted Bailey's presence, then he went back to looking over the river. Bailey smiled. 'Yeah, I'm not gonna bother you, kid.'
He took out his notebook. Bailey did a little more research on the soil compaction tests Granite did for the road widening project, and he wanted to do a few calculations of his own. 'Can we really get away with this percent of concrete in the roadbase? It seems low to me.' Bailey set about to do some relatively complex math. His pencil scratched away, unheard over the roar of the water.
It was oddly peaceful. The river essentially made one of his senses useless. And so, input from Bailey's ears stopped taking up valuable brain computing power - and the sound faded into the background.
Bailey worked out the first part of his calculation. That concerned how much weight the soil along the 199 highway could take - completely unaltered by the addition of stabilizers, like concrete, before it failed under a compression load. His figures were very close to what Granite had already provided to him. Bailey tapped his pencil eraser against the page. 'Just because one bit of math is right doesn't mean the rest of it is.' He smiled to himself, and he started on the next part.
Then he noticed as the teenager stood and he turned. The young fellow looked at Bailey. And this time the boy gave a little nod of greeting at him. Then he made to jump down to the sand.
It’s amazing how quickly something so mundane can go so completely wrong.
The youth’s heel caught on a crack in the stone as he turned his foot. His eyes widened, and his arms spread wide as he tried to find his balance.
With a surprised yelp, he fell backward and landed in the churning water.
Bailey shot to his feet. He saw the boy’s head crest the water. Rayne's eyes were wide in terror, and he took a gasp of air. Then he disappeared under the brown water - his hand the last thing to go beneath.
Bailey looked frantically toward the river trail. There was no way anyone had heard what had happened. No one was coming.
He turned back to the Smith River, and he took two steps, up onto the stone the teen just fell from. Bailey let his strong legs carry him, and he almost ran down the riverbank, hopping from boulder to boulder.
‘There!’ He caught a glimpse of the boy further downstream. There was a scrape on his forehead, and Bailey knew he must be getting punished by the strong current and the rocks. His eyes locked for a moment with those of the young man, then he went under again.
Bailey’s foot slipped, but he managed to keep up on his feet. He pushed himself, and small rocks flew as he pelted downriver, his arms pumping.
A narrowing between the banks was coming up. Bailey jumped onto a large stone that jutted over the water, one hand snagged a limber, thin tree that grew overhead.
The boy surfaced and snatched a gasp of air.
‘Too far!’ Bailey’s thoughts were anguished. The struggling youth was just too far away for him to reach from the stone.
As the boy drew even with him, Bailey made a split-second decision.
Bailey leaped into the shockingly cold water and flailed out his hand. He snagged the young man’s collar as he was carried past and Bailey hauled as hard as he could against the current.
He still held the little tree in his other hand, but the river had an awesome strength. And Bailey knew either they both got out of its path soon, or they would be swept to their deaths.
Bailey pulled with all that he had, his mouth open in a silent scream of effort. His body shook with the strain as he curled the teenager against the current until the boy was close enough to grab the tree too. Now they both held on to the limb.
Bailey reached, and he gripped the stone he had jumped from, and he pushed himself up, onto the rock. Then he grabbed the wrists of the boy.
The teen seemed to be in some sort of mental shock. His hands had a death grip on the limb, and he wouldn’t turn loose. Bailey grimaced at him. ‘Let go! God, let go!’ his mind desperately screamed at the kid.
Finally, the boy’s grip faltered, and Bailey pulled until they both lay safe out of the water on the warm stone. Each panted with effort and adrenaline.
Bailey forced himself to sit up. He looked at the teenager, and he shook him a little. But the boy was definitely in shock. He lay there and blinked, unseeing, while the scrape on his forehead bled and began to bruise.
‘Might have head trauma.’ Bailey stood, and he flinched. His ankle hurt. But he pushed that aside. He quickly pressed through brush, and he broke through the ring of foliage around the far edge of the campground.
His entrance didn’t go unnoticed. The men, Clay and Greg, saw him. He must have been quite the sight because both men immediately ran from the camp kitchen, where they were preparing food, over toward him.
Before they got to him, he turned and dove back into the brush.
“Wait! Bailey?” Greg’s confused voice sounded behind him, as well as the noise of breaking twigs and limbs as they followed. But as long as they were following him, Bailey wasn’t stopping.
He made it back to the river. By this time the boy had sat up, and he held his injured head with one hand. His eyes were teary, and he looked at Bailey when he reappeared next to the river.
Then, seconds later, Clay and Greg showed up, streaming briars and leaves.
“Rayne?!” Greg ran past Bailey, over to the boy. “Are you okay?” The young man threw his arms around Greg’s neck, and he cried, relieved and scared, all at once.
Now that the boy had help, a vast relief hit Bailey, and he blew out a breath. And now that he wasn't running on pure adrenaline, he became aware of the pain in his left ankle. He grimaced, and he was forced to sit down on the rocky shore. He inhaled through his teeth, and he held his left leg up, off of the ground, hands laced behind his knee.
The boy mumbled something to Greg and Clay where they squatted next to him. Bailey didn't hear it. He put his foot down, very gently on the ground. The skin on the side of his ankle throbbed, and Bailey could see blood staining his sock. Bailey bit his lip, and he tried to push himself up to his feet.
"Here." The big man, Clay now stood behind Bailey. "Did you hurt your leg?" He squatted down, and he put his hands on Bailey's ribcage, under his armpits.
Bailey gritted his teeth, and he nodded as Clay helped him stand. As Bailey held onto Clay and balanced on his right foot, Clay eyed him. "Uh, anything else? No other injuries?"
Bailey shook his head.
Clay looked thoughtfully at him. "Bailey, are you mute?"
Bailey grimaced, and he nodded.
"Ah, okay." He pulled Bailey's arm over his shoulder. "Let's get you back up the path. Lean on me." He looked over his shoulder at Greg. "You okay to get Rayne to camp?"
"Yeah." The boy stood by Greg. He was still shaky, shivering and pale, but he was up and walking. The abraded bruise on his head was beginning to turn into a goose egg. Greg steadied him with one hand on his back. "Come on, son. Let's get you by the fire, and we'll do some quick assessments on you. See if you need to go to the hospital."
Clay and Bailey started up the side of the river. Bailey was pretty sure he could make it up the river trail just fine, but the big man seemed worried about it. He grunted. "All right." He hunkered down a bit. "Climb on. I'll carry you on my back."
Bailey blew out a breath and pointed his face at the sky. It was easy to see he didn't like the plan. But, he couldn't communicate with Clay easily. So he went along with what the man wanted. He looped his arms around Clay's neck, and Clay stood up with him. Clay reached down and held Bailey's legs.
'Great.' Bailey fumed as Clay easily carried him, and navigated the rocky riverside, and then up the trail to the campground. 'The only guy I've ridden in two years is via piggyback. Sounds about right.'
Grant and Rayne walked behind Clay. Soon all of the guys were at the top of the path. Clay gently allowed Bailey to slide off his back, onto his uninjured right foot. Bailey grimaced and held onto Clay's arm. 'Okay. Fine, the ankle does hurt.'
Greg looked at Bailey. Greg still had one arm over Rayne's shoulders. "We're probably going to have to take Rayne to the hospital, at least for some testing." Greg glanced at Clay. "Get Bailey a chair, and let Jeremy know what's going on. He's responsible for Rayne while he's under the auspices of the Raven Project."
Clay nodded. "I've got it." Bailey stood uncomfortably, and he tested his weight on his left foot while Clay got him a chair. Then Bailey heavily sat in the camp chair with an exhalation of breath.
Clay jogged through the campground. Less than a minute later, he returned with a short, skinny bearded redhead running beside him. Rayne was passed into the newcomer's care, and Greg turned his eyes to Bailey, while Clay stood nearby.
"Okay. Rayne told me he fell in the river, and that you jumped in after him." Greg squatted down in front of Bailey's chair. "Thanks for that. That was really brave of you." Greg smiled at him, and he nodded at Bailey's foot. "You okay if we take a look at that?"
Bailey nodded again.
Greg seemed to be the guy with the medical background, and the pair of men helped Bailey over to an empty cabin. They opened it up, and they took him inside. They sat him on the futon, then Greg very gently removed Bailey's tennis shoe.
Bailey twitched, and he gritted his teeth. But he knew it could have been worse - Greg treated him with a lot of care. There was a sound, and the door opened. The redhead from earlier stuck his head into the cabin.
"Guys, Mason and I are taking Rayne to the hospital. He seems fine, but we don't want to take a chance with a head injury. You mind keeping an eye on Avery?"
"We don't mind, Jeremy," Clay reassured him. "Though we may have to pass that on to Orson. Hang out for just a little. We might have to take Bailey here in as well."
Jeremy nodded, then he went back outside. And then Clay and Greg refocused on Bailey. Greg peeled off Bailey's wet sock, then he pushed up his pant leg.
"Ouch." Greg's hand squeezed above and below a nasty abrasion on the joint. The skin hung by a flap, and now it bled quite a bit. It was also starting to bruise around the injury. He glanced up at Bailey's eyes. "Did you twist it?"
Bailey thought, then he shook his head. The joint itself felt okay. Not like a sprain, but just superficially injured. 'Must have scraped it on the rocks when I was running on the beach.'
"I'll be right back." Greg left the cabin, and he returned shortly with a roll of gauze and some ointment. The man smiled at Bailey. "Sorry. But we've gotta get you out of those wet clothes. Otherwise, you'll get the bandage wet."
Bailey sighed, and he lay back on the futon. He unbuttoned his jeans, and he wriggled out of the wet denim. Bailey also took off his crew-neck long-sleeve shirt. Now he sat in his wet boxers.
As Greg worked to bandage up his leg, Clay picked up Bailey's pants. "Want me to go get your bag? Is your key in your pocket?"
Bailey nodded, and he held up a thumb, a little smile on his face. Clay left and headed for Bailey's cabin. 'Insightful. Considerate. That's nice.'
"Bailey." He felt the hand of Greg on his shoulder, and he turned his head. Greg had finished with wrapping the wound, and he smiled at him. "You probably don't need x-rays. Looks to me like it's a really nasty bruise and that abrasion on your ankle. But nothing that won't heal."
Bailey agreed. He nodded.
Clay returned with Bailey's bag. Bailey gratefully took it, and he pulled out a pair of warm sweatpants. Bailey shifted until he could stand. Greg and Clay helped him up, then Bailey hooked his thumbs in the waistband of his boxers, and he stripped them off. Greg steadied him, and Bailey then pulled on his sweats.
All of the men were used to nakedness. Bailey, from his days aboard ship and in close proximity to hundreds of sailors. Greg and Clay from their time on the police force in Huntsville, Alabama, and the twice-daily ritual of changing in the locker room with a group of men. So, to them, it wasn't anything odd or exceptional.
Once he heard that Bailey was going to be okay, Clay looked at Greg. "Okay. I'll go grab the van, and all the guys."
Greg smiled at Clay. "Good plan. If you're okay with going with them, I'll stay back to keep an eye on Avery." He looked at Bailey. "And to keep Bailey here company for a bit."
"Yep. Got it." The big man disappeared.
Bailey found a warm, fuzzy sweater in his bag. As he sat on the futon, he pulled it over his head. His head popped through the hole of the clothing, and his eyes met those of Greg's.
It was evident by the expression on Greg's face that he had seen it. It would be almost impossible not to. Bailey's hand went to his neck, and he felt the long, wide scar that ran from just under his jawline down nearly to his sternum. Typically, he wore high-necked shirts, so that it wasn't visible. But this wasn't an ordinary moment.
Bailey smiled a little, and he patted his own chest, shook his head, and then opened his mouth and made a motion with his hand from his open mouth outward. 'I can't speak.' Bailey thought and willed Greg to understand. He then gently tapped the scar on his neck. Bailey knew most folks wouldn't understand American Sign Language, so he mimed the best that he could. He realized that Greg probably heard Clay ask about his lack of speech down at the river. But, Bailey still wanted to clear the water as much as possible.
Greg seemed to get it. He nodded and then he smiled. "Well, regardless of your inability to talk, your jumping in the river for a kid you don't even know told me more than you could ever say."
He extended a hand down. "Come on. Let's start the fire, brew some coffee, and get you warmed up."
Bailey smiled. Then he reached up and took Greg's hand.
Harlan was surprised to see the man, Bailey, sitting beside Greg at the big firepit next to the kitchen. Harlan walked along, on his way to the restroom building. 'Huh. What's up with that?' He was so focused on the pair he nearly ran into the door of the bathroom. He shook his head at himself, then he opened the door.
Harlan finished with his business, and he exited the facility. He kept his face forward, but he looked over with his eyes at Greg and Bailey. They both held steaming mugs, and they sat close to one another on the bench by the fire.
'Weird. It's warm. Why did they build a fire?' It was in the mid-sixties, which is a warm start to any day in October. Then as Harlan neared them, he saw that Bailey's hair was wet. Harlan was usually very good at keeping his face neutral, but he couldn't stop his frown. 'Did he get in the water? Now?' Harlan knew the river was unswimmable. A moment later he discarded that as a possibility. 'No. Maybe it was the shower.' Harlan noticed everything Bailey did, and he knew the man had already taken his shower early in the morning. But, maybe he had taken another. That gave him pause for a different reason. 'Maybe he's getting laid and needed to clean up. Maybe Greg and Clay decided to play around with another guy?'
Harlan continued to walk past the kitchen and firepit. He clenched his jaw as he did. Harlan felt something in the pit of his stomach - something he had never really felt before. He got to his cabin, and he started to open the door.
"Hey." Harlan didn't even notice that Orlando was on the paved loop near his cabin. Orlando stepped close. The brown-skinned man grinned at him. "You wanna hang out?"
Harlan looked levelly at him, and he worked his jaw. "Sure." He opened his cabin, and he motioned for Orlando to enter. The handsome fellow smiled, and he stepped inside.
Harlan shut the door, then he turned to look at Orlando. Harlan's eyes were intense, aggressive, and Orlando's smile slipped a little. "Uh, you okay?"
"I'm fine." Harlan's voice was flat, and he stepped close to Orlando, and he pulled Orlando's shirt off.
Harlan soon had them both undressed. Then, while Orlando stood next to the bed, and as he leaned in to give Harlan a kiss, the brown-haired man pushed Orlando down onto the bed.
Orlando made a surprised sound, but he didn't have long to figure out what was going on. Harlan got on the bed between Orlando's legs as he rolled a condom onto his cock. Harlan smeared some lube on himself, and he stared down at Orlando.
Orlando smiled up at him, and he put his hands on Harlan's waist. He had already responded to the promise of their positioning, and Orlando's meaty, uncut penis lay, hard and warm against his belly. Harlan reached down, grabbed Orlando's wrists, and he pinned them above his head on the pillow.
It was a lucky thing that Orlando liked things a little rough. Harlan moved his hips until he lined up. Then he pressed his pelvis forward, and he continued to hold Orlando's hands tightly against the pillow.
"Unnn." Orlando gritted his teeth. The entry wasn't exactly gentle. Harlan didn't speak at all. And his hips moved irresistibly forward. Finally, all of him was inside Orlando. Just as the man on the bottom breathed a sigh of relief, Harlan began to pump his body.
Orlando groaned half in pleasure and half in pain. His eyes rolled back in his head. Harlan kept his hands pinned, and after a few thrusts, he ramped up to slamming his body into Orlando's.
The Hispanic fellow let out a terrific moan. Harlan knew that Orlando liked to be handled. Well, today that suited Harlan better than it would typically, and he took out his frustration on the handsome man under him.
'Fuck. What the fuck is wrong with me?' Harlan gritted his teeth as he hammered Orlando. The man writhed, almost mindless as Harlan punished him with his body.
Harlan felt his sensation crest into a wild orgasm. He grunted loudly, and he continued to thrust. Then, at last, he shuddered, his body motionless other than his heavy breathing.
Orlando looked dazedly up at him. "Holy shit, Papi." There was a puddle of semen on Orlando's belly. He had gotten off from the massive stimulation of their forceful coupling. "I don't know what you were thinking about, but," he shook his head, "keep that handy!"
Harlan blinked. He released Orlando's wrists, and he pulled out of the man. He stood up, and he removed the condom. "Glad you enjoyed yourself." His voice was almost a growl. He tossed the used rubber in the garbage, then he pulled on his underwear, and he picked up his pants. "I've got things to do, so I'll see you later."
It was Harlan's way of not so subtly hinting that he wanted Orlando to leave. The man picked up on it. "Ah, okay." Orlando got dressed quickly. Harlan waited, a bit impatient while he did.
Orlando tied his shoes, and he stood up. He smiled at Harlan. "Hey, so this was fun." He tried to lean in for a kiss.
Harlan's narrowed, green eyes stopped Orlando. He was obviously not into it, and the man frowned at Harlan. "Ah, I guess I'll go." He looked over his shoulder at Harlan. "Uh, see you."
Harlan nodded curtly at him, and after a moment longer of carefully studying Harlan's flat expression, Orlando left and closed the door behind him.
Harlan put both hands on the door, and he pointed his face down. He stared at the floor, and he slowly breathed, in and out. 'What's wrong with you? What's your problem?' He clenched his jaw. Harlan wasn't used to his mind doing anything he didn't command it to do. And, yet, here he was.
He grimaced as he came to an inescapable conclusion.
"I'm fucking jealous." He shook his head at himself. "I'm jealous of a guy who has, up till now, almost totally ignored me."
Author's Note: Please let me know your thoughts about the chapter at the following email address link. Wayne Gray
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